Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
University of California - Irvine
Oceanic Memories: Nationhood, Belonging, and Geopolitics in the Zanzibar Archipelago

Throughout the Swahili coast, a rise in separatist and ethno-nationalist calls over the past few decades have surfaced with the aims of restoring the region’s autonomy in East Africa and redressing the plight of coastal Muslims in Kenya and Tanzania. Frequently invoking historical claims to a cosmopolitan oceanic past as independent Swahili states, these movements have ranged from tense political mobilizations to everyday sentiments of grievance within East African coastal communities. This project explores these memories of loss and grievance in the Zanzibar archipelago, a set of semi-autonomous Swahili-Muslim islands uniquely at the juncture of African-Islamic histories, transnational Indian Ocean connections, and Pan-African legacies culminating in Zanzibar’s unification with Tanganyika to form the Tanzanian state. Through twelve months of fieldwork in the Stone Town community of Zanzibar, this project will explore how local community debates over autonomy, belonging, and historical memory in a seemingly “small” archipelago can help us rethink much larger questions surrounding 1) the significance of Islamic and Indian Ocean political imaginaries; 2) the ongoing and contested legacies of Pan-African nation-building and citizenship (including disputes over racial, religious, and gender boundaries); 3) and the geopolitics at the intersection of Muslim and African identity in the 21st century.